For a common man like me, there isn’t much exposure to what goes on in the army, navy or the airforce. We are “Busy” people who don’t actually go out of the way and take the pains to understand what goes on in an army family.
Now how many films or books till date have you read which depict what actually goes on in the military families? No I don’t take into account J.P Dutta’s over – the – top and Jingoistic films. We all are subjected to what goes on in the battlefield, but we are never shown what goes on behind the curtains. “The Mistress of Honour” is one such novel which says so much in the most subtle possible way.
Without wasting any time, Bhaavna Arora introduces us to the main characters of the novel’s first part. Captain Deepak Potnis serves in the Indian army. While a part of the 1984 Operation Bluestar, he meets Parminder Kaur Sodhi “Pansy” in the Golden Temple in the most unusual of circumstances. She has just arrived from Britain & has lost her entire family in the massacre.
However, love blooms between Potnis and Pansy. A pregnancy and a subsequent proposal lead to the couple getting married. They are born with a girl called Rihanna.
The romantic aspect between Potnis and Pansy is done very nicely. There is no exaggeration, no display of unnecessary romance. It is a genuinely sweet, witty and moving relationship between the two.
Rihanna grows up in an atmosphere where she and her mother would have to wait for days to months for any news regarding Potnis. Despite this, history repeats itself as she falls in love with Advik, who is with the Indian air force. What happens to their relationship forms the rest of the story till the end.
This is a book filled with good things. We have always seen the picture of war – be it in the Heavenly Kashmir or in the dense jungles of the south east or the Maoists or the Tamil Nadu – Srilanka LTTE fight. But we have never thought about the mental plight of the women behind these brave soldiers.
Be it a mother, wife, fiancée, girlfriend, daughter or a sister – every soldier leaves behind all of these relations to serve his country. While he is busy fighting for the pride of his nation, these women live in fear mixed with faith; Fear of not knowing what might happen to their loved ones; Fear everytime they read the newspaper, listen to the news on the radio or watch news on TV; a fear of answering the doorbell, hoping whoever it is has not brought news that she doesn’t want to hear. They have faith that one day they will get his call or receive his postcard saying he is fine and is returning home.
For months, these women wait patiently, putting up a brave face in front of others, breaking down out of helplessness when alone, bringing up their children single – handedly & answering their endless stream of questions regarding their “daddy, pappa”. They know that despite of all these sacrifices, they will always remain their loved ones’ second love, the country being the first.
It is a tough job – something which only a woman can do. And that is what Bhaavna depicts so well in the book. She doesn’t make this aspect the priority of the book. She handles it brilliantly but never goes overboard.
Secondly, the depiction of the military life is shown wonderfully. Be it the comradeship between Potnis and Shamsher, the depiction of Operation Bluestar or the Tamil Nadu – Srilanka plot, everything seems very natural and true. Then there is the wonderful friendship between Advik and Kabir and their experiences in the NDA. It all is done sans any melodrama, and at the same time it keeps giving us small lesions in friendship, hardwork and success from time to time.
The small subplots are beautifully done. For instance, the entire plot involving Rahim is a beauty. How Shamsher transforms Jasbir Singh Gill (Kabir’s father) into a good man and how Kabir evolves into a brilliant student is also well done.
The characterizations are the high points of this book. Every character has his / her moments. We never are taken too deep in everyone’s lives, and yet bhaavna creates a space for everyone within our hearts.
A special mention to the friendship of Rihanna, Kabir and Advik. It is done nicely.
Not many, though I would have loved a little more of detailing of the characters, making the book a bit longer. Also, too much of the book’s portions are in informal language. More of dialogues would have perhaps enhanced the effect.
OVERALL, thumbs up to Bhaavna Arora for writing a novel that is so light, never gives you that headache which we encounter on reading heavy stuff, and at the same time gives us an insight into the life of the military. Never ever does she delve too deep. Subtlety is the USP of this book. It is one hell of a job trying to teach few lessons without being preachy, and Bhaavna does that perfectly.
This is a book which can easily be finished in one sitting on a lay Sunday rainy afternoon with a large mug of coffee; A book which will encourage you to give more respect to the countless soldiers who are living and even die so that I can comfortably write this blog right now.